Thursday, February 14, 2008


Northern Illinois University

Every parent's nightmare happened again, this time at NIU. My condolences to the students, faculty, and families there.

It's scary in so many ways. From early reports, and from Stephen Karlson's on-the-scene reportage, it sounds like NIU did a whole lot of things right. The police arrived quickly, notifications went out quickly, everybody who could be kept out of the way was. Even with all of that, over twenty people were shot, several fatally. The shooter apparently was a former graduate student, so he knew the campus.

The early tv coverage kept using terms like 'lockdown,' but it's hard to imagine just how that could work on an open, sprawling campus. K-12 schools are often a single building surrounded by a parking lot and/or athletic fields, so it's relatively easy to restrict access to the inside. But most colleges and universities of any size have multiple buildings, many different functions going on simultaneously, and a constantly changing stream of people walking around at any given time. At my college, for instance, it's not unusual to have regular classes, non-credit classes, public programs, and swim meets happening simultaneously. People come and go all the time, and there's absolutely nothing unusual about seeing faces you don't recognize. I see people I don't recognize every single day. It's more like a small city than, say, a high school. How do you lock down a small city?

At larger universities, the problem is even greater. How would you lock down the University of Michigan? You'd half to put half of Ann Arbor in a bubble. It's just not reality.

And even that is all based on the assumption that a lockdown would help. Early reports indicate that the shooter killed himself before the police arrived, and they arrived as quickly as could be asked.

I don't have any answers for this. When I heard the news on the radio on the way home, I stopped thinking like a dean, started thinking like a parent, and had to drive through tears. The kids got some extra hugs tonight, not knowing why.

Sometimes there are no words.

What they seemed to mean by lockdown, as far as I could see, is that the word was passed, very quickly, for grad students to remain in their offices, students to enter a classroom and lock the door behind them, students who were outside were escorted into safe buildings and kept there, et cetera. Our department secretaries were informed, and let all of us know, and it was REALLY quick after the shooting.
I'm stunned by the tragedy. I can't even cry-- at least, not yet.
Thanks for your post. My heart goes out to everyone at NIU and their friends, families, and colleagues.
We need to do more.
There is one thing that can be done and you won't like it - given the rest of your blog.

It's simple, really: Arm the faculty. And train them to use their weaponry properly.
Anonymous 2:23, what would that change? As far as I remember, the NIU instructor was the first one shot. You either have a weapon drawn and ready to use, or you are teaching. Not both at the same time.
The instructor was the first one shot because there was a door leading directly to the stage.

So the facilities might have to be upgraded as well...
First, I am saddened that this type of violence has happened again. Second, I had a debate with someone after this happened on how the campus can be more secure. It is difficult to control everything, but I looked to my own current classroom for an answer.

This semester I am teaching a computer course, which has a metal door and a lock that can not be opened from the outside except with a key. Keys are strictly controlled. Some classrooms have staff/faculty ID card scanners for opening doors. I am very happy no one can just walk into my class unless someone from the inside opens it. This gives me complete control over disruptive late students and some level of safety. The only reason the door and lock are in place is to protect the expensive equipment in the room. Shouldn't every college classroom have this in place regardless of the classroom equipment? This is not going to stop someone from shooting people down in the hallways or outside, but these shooters go for a classroom due to the population inside. The next step will be to have a security guard at every door and metal detectors. Many city high schools have had that in place since the 1980s.
First of all, I think we can all agree that *prevention* is better than *recovery* but how do you prevent an armed (with a gun or an SUV; doesn't matter) and determined individual from wreaking havoc on a group of people?

We have had shootings in Federal Courthouses and Prisons, fer cryin out loud. With metal detectors, pass card security, and bars in the windows.

"Prevention" is problematic even in a totalitarian state, so I will ignore it.

The question then becomes "How many are you willing to let die while waiting for "Law Enforcement" to arrive?

Until you are willing to accept trained and armed individuals in the classroom, there will be delay (30 seconds? 10 minutes?) before the response team arrives; and then, depending on the situation, more delay after that. 30 seconds is unacceptable. Too many innocent lives lost.

How many of us have had personal scares with the "more than kooky" disgruntled student?

How many of us even own bullet resistant vests; how many of us are trained and licensed CCL/CHL holders?

How many of our students are trained and licensed CCL/CHL holders?

yet another confused professor
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